Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Unreliable narrators and reader expectations #amreading

someone reading a book

We’ve all heard the term “unreliable narrator”. It’s what we call a character we can’t trust to tell us the truth of the story. Sometimes we don’t see the “unreliable-ness” of that narrator right away (or maybe it’s just me 😉 ), but sometimes we see it becuase a different POV character sees the world of the story in a way that feels more accurate.

Narrators can be unreliable for many reasons, from simple naivete to a highly-biased view of the world due to a mental or behavioral condition. Think multiple-personality disorder or sociopathic characteristics. Or maybe they are so jaded by their life that reality is always distorted through their lens.

I haven’t written an unreliable narrator (not intentionally, at least), but I do have characters who behave a certain way because they see the real world through a filter woven from the cloth of their life experiences. They don’t narrate, but POV characters interact with them, and their slant on the world comes through that way.

Needless to say, I haven’t read many books in which the POV character is an unreliable narrator, so I’m not familiar with how those stories work out in the end. I’ve just read a story in which one of the POV characters is unreliable in a big way, but the reader learns this early on. Once I realized the character couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth of the world the way it was, but only the way she saw it, I expected the story to work out a certain way.

Did it? Well, yes. Sort of. It was good for conflict and tension. There was the inevitable “is that really how it happened, or is that just how the character remembers it” question each time the character’s story was told from someone else’s perspective. This led to the question of a different character’s true nature. Is he really abusive, or does she just see him that way? Was her child truly sick, or was there some sort of Munchausen syndrome by proxy going on?

Which adds up to a story fraught with questions and conflict and tension. A good story overall, but at some point, I disliked the unreliable narrator so much I didn’t care what happened to her at the end. I did care about other characters and how the unreliable character’s actions affected them.

Even with the unreliable character’s potential redemption at the end of the story, I felt unsatisfied. I did see opportunities to strengthen other threads that would affect other characters a bit more, threads that could reflect facets of the unreliable character’s story and thus put more pressure on the character(s) I did like, but that part didn’t happen the way I expected. If the author had pushed that angle a bit more, would it have made the story better or worse?

As a beta reader and fellow author, how do I critique the story? If I hand the story to someone else who reads more books with unreliable narrators than I do, would the story meet their expectations?

Writing is subjective, as are all creative endeavors. There is no doubt the author is skilled. It’s the story. It’s like my appreciation for the ability of an opera singer, even though I do not like opera. I can appreciate the talent of a great actor, even if I don’t like a lot of the projects they have done. I’m one of the two dozen people who think The Great Gatsby isn’t worth more than a meh.

All I can do is share my take on the story and offer suggestions the author can either use to make adjustments, or ignore. I’m only one reader, so don’t just take my word for it. Ask that reader over there what s/he thinks about it. You’ll get a different answer for sure.

Keep calm and Write On!

What? We aren’t getting into trouble …


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Writing is a solo mission … until it’s not #amwriting #amrevising

As an introvert, I like being alone. I’m not so much of an introvert that I avoid being around people at any cost, but I need to be alone to recharge after being someplace with lots of people. And if I can avoid a crowd, I will.

Seems ideal for a writer to be introverted; we write alone, for the most part, with furry or feathered exceptions. Even if we are collaborating with another writer, I think more often than not each writer pens his/her own scene or chapter, then they swap and critique each other’s work. Well, at least that’s how some authors do it.

The act of writing itself seems tailor-made for solitude, but once we get words on paper, things change. We go through our work, pruning and filling in and sifting and sorting through scenes and paragraphs and dialog until we have what we think is a polished draft.

Note the word “think”. Okay, so you could make the argument that a draft is polished after you’ve gone through and winnowed out all those “favorite” words, like “just”, “so”, “eyes”, and “then”.

Except all you’ve done until now is sand the rough edges off. Maybe squared a corner or two, or corrected an uneven angle. Polished? Eh, maybe. If you’ve been writing for decades and published, like, LOTS of books (or maybe just a few but those few are really good), then yeah, I’d go with polished. But most of us, even if we have been writing for decades, need more than just our eyes on our work to really shine it up. And that’s before our work hits the computer screen of an editor.

There is nothing like handing off your darling to a fellow trusted critique partner and waving. Good-bye. Good luck. I’ll see you in a few weeks. Don’t get any black eyes or scraped knees.

And when that manuscript returns home … Uff-da. Time to get the computer out and revise yet again. And get another critique after that to catch the things you missed. And after that, one or two rounds of beta reading from people who don’t just say “It’s a great story”, but people who can say “eh, it started dragging here” or “why did/didn’t character D do this” or “what was the purpose of pointing out that shiny sword if no one ever used it”.

We are too close to our own work to notice a lot of those little things. We know the story inside and out, and we are certain everything is shined up as much as it can be. That’s why we need critique partners and beta readers. They will see those little things, like trying to bury dead bodies in a frozen lake.

If you don’t have critique partners, but would like some, there are some good resources on FB like the SubIt Club Critique Partner Matchup. If that doesn’t seem quite right for you, don’t forget resources like writers groups. I mean, there has to be at least some writers that are looking for a critique partner in a writers group, right? Especially consider genre-specific groups, like a local chapter of Sisters in Crime or similar organizations. It would be easier to find someone who is familiar with your genre.

For me, I’m working my way through revisions based on suggestions from my Writing Sisters, then off to beta reader land. I enjoy my alone time to write, but I also know I’m not good enough yet to forgo critique partners. In my realm, they are one of the most important parts of my writing journey.

Write on!

Nyx and Tibbers looking for trouble


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YAGU (Yet Another Garden Update) #mngarden

Unicorn variety cherry tomatoes

It’s rolling into that time of the season, where everything seems ready to pick all at the same time, except for those things I really want to pick, like the tomatoes (c’mon, hurry up and get ripe!)

Two weeks ago things were buzzing–literally. The borage was three feet tall, I swear! And bees! Finally! Took them long enough to show up. This week the borage has died back. Yep, didn’t take long, but I think the rain we had last weekend helped it along. Borage has hollow stems, or at least they seem hollow, so after it makes its seeds, it has a tendency to rot at the base, especially when there’s rain to help it along. I ended up pulling out almost all the formerly-bushy plants when I got back from WI because they had collapsed on top of the onions.

There’s still a little still standing, though, and the bees appreciate it.

Bee on borage flower–those little buggers are hard to catch on “film”

The green beans are ready to harvest, but not quite enough at one sitting to cook up for a meal. The cilantro is flowering, but I did plant more, so that’s starting to come up.

The onions are starting to fall over, which is typically the indication they are done growing. The peppers are doing super, with jalapenos (and of course, enough to feed a village and the next village over) and a sweet pepper called “Chablis” that starts out pale and ripens to orange, then red. There aren’t any ripening yet, though.

My poor cucumber. Sigh. It’s struggling, and being innundated with striped cucumber beetles doesn’t help. Then again, I didn’t know cucumber beetles were so fond of green beans, either. I mean, they’re cucumber beetles, but when I checked the beans the other day, there were clouds of them. So I got out my trusty organic pyrethin-based bug spray (which has been sitting around for years cuz I haven’t felt the need to use it for a while), mixed some up, and let loose on those little buggers. Seems to have helped a bit, I think.

And pumpkins! You know how they kinda take over? Yeah, well, they have:

Pumpkin vines

This is fully one quarter of the garden, and they are draped over the fence and sprawling that direction. So, how many pumpkins does that much greenery get you? Not sure. Remember, these are the ones my sis-in-law asked me to plant for her. They are the Jack o’Lantern variety, so bigger than the pie pumpkins I planted last year, and thus there are fewer actual pumpkins (I think. I haven’t found very many at this point.).

I see you there, pumpkin

My marigolds are just starting to bloom. At least one of them is. I’m not a fan of the smell, but I have the seeds, and it’s nice to see a little color.

Marigold

At this point, I don’t bother to weed much, except to pull some stuff to toss to the chickens, who seem to appreciate it. They better, because I don’t think I’ll have enough cucumbers to give any of them to the chickens.

In other news, our reunion was great! It was so nice to see everyone in person again. Even though we had to Zoom one of our Sisters in because she was going through her last radiation treatment (breast cancer), the gang was back together! Next year is our tenth anniversary, so we’re hoping we can all gather in person for that one. It’ll be a blast!

My first week at my new job went, um, … Let’s just say it was interesting. Two companies merged last year to become the one company I work for, so they are still getting the computer systems and networks to talk to each other without choking on things. On the one hand, the IT dept is great! I’m getting really good at submitting tickets :). The people are great, including my manager and my team. I spent the week doing training (two days of learning the fundamentals of payroll … sheesh.), and I’ll spend this upcoming week doing more training.

On Monday I’ve got my first in-person book thing since the early spring of 2020, so I’m crossing my fingers that will be good. Never know these days, especially with the way things are going. I have another in-person event the beginning of Oct, so we’ll see if that sticks or if they switch it to virtual like they did last year.

Have a great writing week!

Nyx and Tibbers chillin’


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9th annual Writing Sisters Reunion #amwriting #amediting

Crystal River

“Come on. I asked you, and you said you would, and I quote, ‘be happy to write your post’.”

“That was before …”

“Uh-uh. Nope. No excuses. We have an agreement.”

“Not part of my job description, love.”

“It falls under the ‘and other duties as required’ clause.”

I give my writer my best narrowed-eyes look. “On one condition.”

“No conditions. You know damn well I’m trying to be productive, even if it’s being in a critique discussion with the rest of my Writing Sisters.” My writer plants her fists on her hips. “What did you do besides float down the river yesterday?” she asks in a tone of suspicion.

“I relaxed.” And a little recreation, but I’m not inclined to mention that. So what if I got caught up in a game of Frisbee golf? “Besides, you went on an outing, too.”

She narrows her eyes at me and raises a brow. “We went to a historical house-slash-museum.”

I allow an eye-roll. “Because you write historical fiction, right?”

“No, because it was an activity, it was interesting, and what if I do decide to write something historical?” She purses her lips. “C’mon. I work, and you write my blog post. I’m working on my writing.”

Sometimes I can’t resist yanking her chain. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of writing so far, love.”

“You know how this works. We go over everyone’s stuff. Today is my turn. Besides, we always whip up creative energy when we get together. I’ll be charged up by this afternoon when we have our writing time.” She adds a finger wag. “And I’m expecting you to be available, not off on some kayak down the river.”

I have to smile. Gods, I love when she gets fired up like this. It’s a special kind of energy those eight women wind up, even if one of them is connecting through whatever video chat thing they have going. “Of course I’ll be available, love.”

“And you’ll write my blog post?”

I toss an arm around her shoulders. “You know I will, as long as you are working.”

“Great!” She hands me her computer. “Here you go. I’m going to go for a run before breakfast.”

The ladies had a great session yesterday, from what the other muses tell me, so I’m not too worried. I’d better get another game of golf in before they start up today. Keep writing!

Tibbers and Nyx